Never mind the polls we’re topping these days, if there was ever a sign that this thriving, sought-after city has become the place to be – not that we needed any convincing – it might well be somewhere like The Ivy earmarking us for its first UK outpost outside of London.
The Ivy Clifton Brasserie – open less than a week on the Friday night we stroll through its pretty portico entrance and settle down among the distressed antique mirrors and elaborate botanical arrangements suspended from skylights in its beautifully airy orangery – can be found in the former bank on Caledonia Place. A gorgeous Georgian-style edifice of honey-hued stone, it must have seen a lot of money pass through its doors during its previous life – and, we decide as a divine dining experience gets underway, there’s no doubt that’ll continue while The Ivy team are in the house.
In the main body of the restaurant – designed by Martin Brudnizki – there’s a planes, trains and automobiles kind of a theme, with references to Bristol’s transport history, and images of the Clifton Suspension Bridge on the blue panelling that caps each wall, plus plenty of other local art and a striking statement floral centrepiece. As well as smart private dining rooms, there’s also a bijou outdoor space to be admired, full of pretty blooms spilling out of tall stone urns.
The general feel is a little art deco – from the fonts on the signage, to the gleaming gold bar, where white tux-clad mixologists serve up salted caramel espresso martinis and localised concoctions such as the Brunel Breeze – long and tropical with vodka, passionfruit, lemon and ginger ale – and the Poison Avon – gin, griottine cherries, lychee liqueur, orgeat and lime. Say no more.
My starter of seared scallops is faultlessly executed – all the lightly charred flavour of the molluscs sealed in perfectly
M kicks off with the Orchard G&T – a pokey take on the standard with Seville orange gin, rinquinquin a la peche, Creole bitters and Mediterranean tonic – while I opt for the foamy Lavender Lady’s Beefeater gin shaken with orange blossom, agave and peach pulp, garnished with fresh lavender.
À La Carte
The à la carte menu isn’t as adventurous, with nothing too outlandish – rather, a real focus on great dishes done well and showcasing superb flavour combinations. My starter of seared scallops is faultlessly executed – all the lightly charred flavour of the molluscs sealed in perfectly and contrasting with the cheesy chew of the Parmesan crisp that crowns them. M is thrilled to spot her all-time favourite, classic prawn cocktail, with avocado, cherry tomato and the requisite Marie Rose sauce – and after gently poking fun at her safe bet, I’m laughing on the other side of my face when the dish arrives, the fat shrimps peering out defiantly from their gleaming silver bowl, among crisp folds of lettuce, and looking to-die-for.
The scallops are a tough act to follow, but my main course of creamed polenta and soft poached hen’s egg does a fine job, bolstered by spears of asparagus, salsify, samphire and truffle cream. M is equally content with her slow-roasted lamb shoulder, which also makes soft polenta a hero element – this time infused with parmesan – and teams it with roasted peppers, olives and rosemary sauce.
It’s the steady flow of high-calibre openings like this that are keeping the city on the map
This being the new baby of The Ivy Collection, we’re not surprised that everything looks and tastes top-notch. What does surprise us is how down-to-earth it all feels. Yes, in the lead up to opening, they’d emphasised that the plan was to offer inclusive, laidback, all-day dining, but, truth be told, we didn’t really think it actually would be. The vibe is chic but friendly and warm, and every one of the staff seem genuinely thrilled to be there – in particular, our waiter Lukasz, who is full of charm and conversation and beaming at all times.
Drawing a line under proceedings for M is the chocolate bombe with milk foam and vanilla ice cream, which melts away to leave a honeycomb centre among a warm pool of pure indulgence when a little jug of hot salted caramel sauce is poured over the top. Just as appealing is my lemon meringue Alaska, baked with lemon ice cream, lemon curd and baby basil – the latter balance the sweetness beautifully.
It’s the steady flow of high-calibre openings like this that are not only keeping the city on the map, but having prospective visitors drawing rings round it – better add it to your Bristol bucket list, stat.
Visit The Ivy Clifton Brasserie
The Ivy Clifton Brasserie
42-44 Caledonia Place